Mantis Shrimp Can Enhance Their Vision By Rolling Their Eyes

July 13, 2016 | Erica Tennenhouse

mantis shrimp
Photo credit: prilfish/Wikipedia (CC BY 2.0)

An exquisite and unique visual adaptation.

Mantis shrimp are famous for their complex eyes, which possess 12 different color channels (humans, by contrast, use only 3), leading scientists to believe they perceive colors that are unimaginable by other species.

Researchers have now shown that these inquisitive stalk-eyed crustaceans are capable of enhancing their vision by simply rolling their eyes.

"We have known for a while that mantis shrimp see the world very differently from humans," explains Nicholas Roberts from the University of Bristol, co-author of a study published in the journal Nature Communications, in a press release. “But the eye movements of mantis shrimp have always been something of a puzzle.”

The eyes of mantis shrimp process polarization — a property of light that conveys the orientation in which light waves are oscillating. The researchers discovered that those peculiar eye movements turn up the polarization contrast on objects against their marine backdrops, thus sharpening the images that mantis shrimp see as they explore their environment.

"Intuitively, a stable eye should see the world better than a mobile one, but mantis shrimp seem to have found a different way to see more clearly," says Roberts.

This is the first documented example of any animal actively maximizing the polarization information they receive through rotational eye movements, the authors write.

The mantis shrimp’s unique adaptations to visual perception could guide the design of bio-inspired technologies to be used in polarization cameras and image processing.

You might also like: 12 of the Coolest Eyes in the Animal Kingdom

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